Flashes & Floaters

In any person with flashes or floaters, it is important to exclude a retinal tear urgently.

What are floaters?
Floaters occur when the gel-like substance that fills the eye, called the vitreous body, separates from the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The vitreous body consists of fine fibres which are firmly attached to the retina. 

As we approach middle age, the vitreous shrinks and the fine fibres pull on the retina and eventually separate. This is known as a posterior vitreous detachment (PVD).

Floaters suddenly appear because the vitreous, as it pulls away from the retina, has small opacities that cast a shadow on the retina.  These may be more noticeable against clearer backgrounds such as the sky.

What are signs of Floaters?
Floaters commonly appear as small, dark, squiggly shapes that look like a fly or a strand of hair that drift around your vision when you move your eye.

Is there treatment for floaters?
Floaters are usually harmless.  They can be frustrating and usually subside over time with no required treatment.

What are flashes?
Flashes are caused by the fine fibres from the shrinking vitreous pulling on the retina. Flashes can last for a few seconds to several minutes and can occur on and off for days, weeks or even months.  They may be associated with floaters.

What are signs of Flashes?
Appear as a small arc-like flash of light in the peripheral vision.

What is a retinal tear?
In some cases, the vitreous body is strongly attached to the retina in a certain area, and as the vitreous shrinks and pulls away, a small piece of the retina can come off with it, creating a tear in the retina.  This is an urgent problem because retinal tears can lead to retinal detachments, which can cause vision loss.

Treatment for retinal tears
Small tears are primarily treated with laser treatment. 

A laser beam is aimed through the pupil and focused around the tear.  Tiny burns are created around the tear to ‘wall off’ the tear and prevent a retinal detachment.

Leaving a retinal tear untreated can result in the fluid within the eye escaping and pushing the retina off the inside wall of the eye. This is known as a retinal detachment, this is a severe threat to vision and emergency surgery is needed to re-attach the retina.

How are flashes, floaters & retinal tears diagnosed?
A Dilated Exam
Your ophthalmologist will place drops in your eyes to enlarge the pupils. This provides a bigger window for your eye doctor to look through and comprehensively examine the back of your eye using a special magnifying lens. Through this lens, the vitreous body will be evaluated and the peripheral retina will be thoroughly assessed, as this is where most retinal tears occur.